Veteran Navy SEAL Luke Briar has a solution for every problem, except when his latest job goes sideways. Things were so much simpler when all he had to worry about was how to put a smile on Abigail's face, though nothing he does chases the shadows from her eyes. Now Luke and his lovely new partner must protect a pair of criminals from people trying to kill them.
Abigail is a lie. Everything about her is false, but keeping the truth from her partner is becoming increasingly difficult. Her mission was simple, kill two internationally wanted criminals and get out. But she wasn't counting on him. Luke. He awakens parts of her she long thought were dead. But people like her don’t get second chances at life, and her betrayal will crush any happiness they might have had. Falling for Luke can't happen.
When the tables are turned and someone else gets to Abigail's targets before she can, all hell breaks loose. Luke doesn’t know if the woman he’s fallen for is a terrorist or something worse. Explosive desire isn't a license for murder, but he can’t live without her. With the authorities closing in, Luke must decide who to trust—law or love.
Warning: Explosive chemistry ahead.
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An Excerpt From: DANGEROUS ASSIGNMENT
Copyright © SIDNEY BRISTOL, 2016
All Rights Reserved, Inked Press.
Luke Briar stared at the phone screen and waited for the anger, the bitterness, something. But all he felt was…nothing.
“Who was that?” Ethan Turner, his friend and fellow Aegis Group bodyguard, emerged from the bathroom.
“The PI.” Luke swiped his thumb over the screen. Her face stared back at him, but it didn’t bring up the same feelings it once had.
“Oh, he find what’s-her-name?” Ethan tucked in his shirt.
“Her name is Dianna.”
“Well, where’d he find her?”
“She moved back in with her mother in Pennsylvania.” Luke tapped through the settings and set one of the default wallpapers as his background.
“Tell me, man, how many does this make?” Ethan shoved his feet in his shoes and sat down on the edge of the other queen bed. “You’ve got a problem, Idris Elba. These women you keep hooking up with? They don’t want you to rescue them. You’ve got to stop.”
“Fuck you.” Luke tossed the phone onto the bed and crossed to the desk.
His conscience was clear, and that was what mattered. Dianna was a grown-ass woman who could make her own decisions. Like leaving him without a word. At least he knew she was okay, now. When he’d met her at a dive bar fighting with her then-boyfriend, stepping in had seemed like the logical thing to do. The guy was an abuser—it was written on every fiber in his body—and Luke wasn’t about to stand back and watch a woman get smacked around.
He hadn’t meant to fall into bed with Dianna. He’d told himself that this time—this time it would be different, but she’d needed him and…fuck. It’d turned out just like his relationship before Dianna. Kaitlyn had left him in the middle of the night to go stay with her sister. At least Jeanna had left a note. Tracey had been able to tell him to his face that she was leaving.
Luke scrubbed a hand over his face. Inside he felt that same hollowness none of his girlfriends had been able to fill. They hadn’t fit him, even though he’d tried to be what they needed.
Next time, it would be different.
Today though, was work.
“What’s on the itinerary today?” He picked up a piece of paper.
They’d been hired out for a three-week stint with repeat customers. At a certain point, having a bodyguard nearby was like wearing a Rolex. Just another indicator of wealth. Mr. Flannery was an all right guy. Luke had worked for him a total of five times. This gig should be routine, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was up.
Luke closed the mental box on Dianna, and like that—it was over.
“Did you ever get a reason for why we’re in New York?” Luke held up the paper. The itinerary the Flannery family had put on the docket had them in Atlanta. Granted, the kind of people they worked for didn’t need much of a reason to change their plans, but not being in the know made it harder for Luke and Ethan to at least pretend they were doing a job.
“Nah, when I asked the Missus she said something about dinner.”
“Yeah, that was strange. Who was the couple they were eating with, again?”
“Who? The Smiths? No idea.” Ethan rolled his eyes. “Did you see who walked up and chatted with them during dinner?”
“Should I know who that is?”
“Since you don’t, then no.”
“Who is he?”
“He’s a cleanup guy. You want something hidden or to make a problem go away? Frank’s your guy. He knew that couple Mr. Flannery was eating with.”
“Do I want to know how you know who Frank is?”
Ethan merely glared over his shoulder at Luke.
“Great,” Luke muttered.
Ethan had been with Aegis a lot longer than Luke. In fact, unless he was mistaken, Ethan and his buddy Travis were some of the first guys Admiral Crawford had set up shop with. Suffice to say, Ethan had worked a lot of not-so-great jobs while Aegis established its reputation.
“Well, today’s agenda is fucked. I’m going to go see what the boss man has for us.” Luke turned and opened the door into the suite.
They had strict orders to remain out of the space until after 10 a.m., which any other time would be a welcome, easy morning. But not this one. Luke couldn’t shake the sense that something bad was going on.
He made it three steps into the main living space before stopping.
A woman he hadn’t seen before stood at the window, staring out onto the street. She was all curves, with long, lush, wavy hair swept up into a ponytail. His fingers itched to dig into it. It was the kind of hair a man liked to hold on to. She turned, full lips set into a straight, no-nonsense line, a lot like her almost-uniform black pantsuit and white shirt. It was utilitarian, not frilly, which meant she wasn’t an assistant or some sort of concierge employee, but she also wasn’t on the same level as their employers. Yet the suit was tailored.
She was something else. Something interesting.
“You’re up. Good.” Her musical voice felt as though it stroked down Luke’s spine.
“And you are?”
“I’m Abigail. I work for the Smiths. I was sent to collect you.”
“I’m sorry—what?” Luke shook his head. “Ethan, come out here.”
Ethan emerged, shrugging into his jacket. The glance he tossed Abigail’s way was calculating. He’d seen her before. Last night? Another job? Who was she?
“Why are the Smiths collecting us? What the hell is going on?” Luke glanced at the master suite doors, which were tossed open. The bed was made, as though it hadn’t been slept in. “Seriously, what’s going on?”
“I’m not sure. I was just sent to collect you.” Abigail clasped her hands in front of her. There was a hard wall of professionalism firmly in place. He wanted to crack it. See her smile. That’d be truly dangerous. She was…what? A former Marine? Some sort of Special Forces? She’d seen time, unless Luke was totally off the mark.
Luke strode into the master suite, but the Flannery’s luggage was gone. He’d placed it in the closet yesterday because they didn’t like for the bellmen to handle their things.
“Where did they go?” Luke turned on his heel and pulled his phone out.
He jabbed the contact for Mr. Flannery and pressed it to his ear. It rang. And rang. And rang to voicemail.
Ethan sat on the sofa, staring at his phone.
“What the ever-loving fuck is going on?” Luke wanted to wrap his hands around something. He couldn’t do his job if the clients disappeared.
“There’s an email,” Ethan said.
Luke had to manually refresh his inbox for the message to show up. The time stamp was exactly nine fifty-five.
“Mr. Briar, Mr. Turner. We are opting to transfer our contract to Mr. and Mrs. Smith per article—Can they do that?” Luke stared at Ethan.
“I’m reading. They’re citing the contract. Hold on, Zain’s already replied to just us…”
“What the hell is going on here?” Luke asked Dangerous-and-Curvy.
“I only know that I’m supposed to bring you two to the airport. We’re leaving in less than an hour.”
“Zain says technically they can—and the Flannery’s paid three weeks in advance so…”
Luke didn’t like it.
“You’re Ethan, so you must be—”
“That’s Idris Elba,” Ethan said over her magical voice.
“Shut the fuck up,” Luke said to Ethan before closing the distance between himself and Gorgeous. “I’m Luke.”
He held out his hand and waited.
“Abigail.” She placed her hand in his, her gaze boring straight into Luke’s skull. And he liked it. A woman with intensity and poise. He’d be willing to bet she would be a fun one to…handle. “Are you coming or what? I’d prefer to not be left behind.”
“I want to talk to my boss real quick. Excuse me?” Luke stepped into the next room and hit the number for the Admiral’s office. He picked up almost immediately.
“Luke, it’s Crawford, Stephens, and Lloyd on speaker.” The Admiral’s voice echoed, which meant he was probably leaned back in his desk chair ready to start throwing darts. He did that when he couldn’t move around and yell at people.
“Sir, sit-rep?” Luke needed a full situational report on this job before making any sort of decision.
“Look, they’re exploiting that family and friends clause of the contract,” Mr. Stevens said. “It’s meant to cover family in extreme circumstances, but the way they’re angling it, it’s a full transfer. We will have to close that loophole, but as of now…”
Luke could imagine Mr. Steven’s shrugging with a glare on his face. The old preacher had a nasty glare.
“The Flannerys were good clients. They brought us a lot of easy business.” That was Zain. Easy jobs meant no one died.
“What do you think, Briar?” Crawford asked.
Luke blew out a breath.
“What does Turner say?” Crawford’s chair squeaked.
“We don’t know what to think, sir. The Smiths, right? They’re leaving in less than an hour for…I don’t even know where. I don’t like it. I highly doubt their name is Smith at all. Ethan saw them speaking with someone shady, which leads me to believe they’re either rich and stupid or bad news.”
“We go back on this, we refund their money,” Zain said.
“Are these people dangerous?” Crawford asked.
“I don’t know, sir.” Zain’s impression of them was that they were rich idiots. But if they were talking to dangerous people Ethan recognized…maybe they were just stupid.
“Unless you can give me reason to believe seeing this contract through puts you or Turner in danger, I’m going to say see it through. We’ll close this loophole in the future,” Crawford said.
“Get me a picture of these people, if you can. I’d like to know more about them if we’re sending you in there blind.” Zain’s frustration telegraphed clearly through the line. He took the safety of their people personally.
“Okay. I’ll update when I have more.”
Luke hung up and returned to the main room, catching Ethan’s eye first.
They were going to do this, and he didn’t like it.
“Well, I guess we should load up. Where exactly are we going?” Luke wouldn’t mind going anywhere with the lady of the magic voice, but he was being paid to be prepared. He couldn’t protect his new clients if he didn’t know what to expect.
Ethan led the way back into their room. It took a few moments to get their bags packed and ready to go.
“You brought your passports, I assume?” She folded her hands in front of her.
Definitely some sort of military.
“Who are Mr. and Mrs. Smith?” Luke didn’t believe for a second that was the couple’s real names. He stuffed the last of his things into his bag and zipped it up.
“I’m not paid to answer questions.” Abigail turned and strode out of the room. If it weren’t for that hesitation before shaking his hand, he might think she was a robot, some sort of sophisticated AI programmed to twist him around her finger.
He had a soft spot for the ladies. So what?
Luke glanced at Ethan.
He looped one bag’s strap over his shoulder and held the hanging bag in his other, Ethan following suit.
“Abigail, wait up.” Luke lengthened his stride.
She paused with one hand on the door handle.
“Military Police?” he asked.
She tilted her head to the side.
“Were you an MP?” he asked.
“No.” Abigail opened the suite door and led the way down the hall. “Passports?”
“In my bag,” Luke replied. “Where we headed?”
“Like it matters?” Ethan snorted.
“I don’t ask questions,” Abigail said over her shoulder.
“What do you know?” Luke liked puzzles, and Abigail was just that.
“Mr. and Mrs. Smith have somewhere to be and are in need of…persons to deter an altercation.” Her words were concise, the sound of her voice smooth, yet there was a strength there. She pressed the down arrow on the elevator and waited with them.
“You’re the Missus’ bodyguard then?” Ethan asked.
Luke could believe it. There was an efficiency to the way Abigail moved. Smooth. Confident. It spoke of training. Competence. And it was dead sexy, the way one hip rolled after the other. He could watch it all day.
“Let me get this straight.” Luke followed Abigail into the elevator. “We have no idea where we’re going—but we may or may not need passports. Our new employers are probably using aliases—and they have connections in low places. What could possibly go wrong?”
Abigail. My name is Abigail. I am an American. I am a professional. I do not care what my bosses do. I am Abigail. I am American. I will not murder my employer.
“You look like you’re about to break that window.” Luke eased into the seat across from her. Somehow, even though he kept his legs on his side, he seemed to take up all of the space around her.
Abigail inhaled, catching the same scent she’d noticed in the elevator. Slightly woodsy, a man’s scent. And Luke was all man.
She needed to get laid. Hard. Maybe a few times, so she could work this tension out of her system. Sex had never been the answer before, but nothing else was working. The way she was so completely aware of this man was…unnatural. It was as though simply by being in the same space with her, he disrupted all of her order. Everything she’d put in place.
Luke pulled out his phone. From the seat he’d taken, he had a direct shot of the pseudo Mr. and Mrs. Smith at the in-flight dining table, sipping champagne. Of course they were celebrating. They were on their way to closing a rather large black market deal that would result in mass casualties. It’d cost Abigail a considerable sum of money to obtain information about this transaction, and she still didn’t know all of it, but she knew enough. And if time was on her side, she’d be able to stop them before things went too far.
“If you’re trying to take a picture, the sun will ruin it.” Amateur. Luke was a soldier, not a covert operative. Still, she had to give him points for trying.
“I only need faces,” he said slowly.
“And what will you do with this picture? I could tell Mr. and Mrs. Smith you’re trying to figure out their real names. I don’t think they’d take kindly to that.” She fought the urge to fold her arms across her chest and instead let them lie on the seat rests. Casual. Confident. She was a professional.
In truth, she was about to snap from the tension.
Eight full days with those people.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith.
She wanted to kill them for being utterly obnoxious, and that was before she factored in the kinds of things they did. The lives they played with to amuse themselves.
If the couple stuck to their routine, they’d abandon her in four days or less at some hotel, or if she were lucky, the airport. That was how they operated. Pick up a new bodyguard, leave a bodyguard. Over and over, never allowing any of them to get too close, too familiar, or to learn who they were really protecting.
But she knew.
“Gail? Gail?” The supposed Mrs. Smith pitched her voice louder with each word.
Abigail turned in her seat.
“Could you be a dear and get my purse?” Mrs. Smith smiled, her white teeth so perfect they had to be fake. In fact, Abigail knew they were fake. As were the woman’s nose, breasts and lips.
Abigail pushed to her feet and crossed to the luggage hold near the rear entrance. Mrs. Smith’s designer bag sat on a shelf by itself. Abigail hefted the purse and carried it gently back to its owner.
Chances were, Mrs. Smith was packing more than lipstick in there, and Abigail did not want to jostle it or be the one to set off whatever party favor the woman was carrying.
“Thank you.” Mrs. Smith smiled while her husband swirled more champagne in his flute.
Abigail smiled, if it could be called that, and returned to her seat.
I am a professional. I will not murder my bosses mid-flight.
Luke rubbed his chin, his dark gaze following her every move. He was a predator. Dangerous. Deadly. The difference between them was that Luke’s threat was overt. She knew by looking at him exactly what he was. Ex-Navy SEAL, and he’d probably seen time doing black ops. The tough shit that left scars on people. And yet…he wasn’t completely brittle. There was passion in there. He still believed in something.
Most importantly, he had no idea who or what she was. And she wanted to keep it that way.
“Do you prefer to be called Gail?” he asked.
“Just Abigail then?”
“No. Yes. If I ask something else will you just say yes or no?”
“Ah, you know how to sweet talk a man.” He smiled, all warmth and…friendliness. He was being familiar with her. Flirting.
She knew how to flirt, how to interact with people, but she was tired. Oh, so tired. And this—with Mr. and Mrs. Smith—was the final stop. Her last objective. And then…she didn’t know. Maybe it would be time for the long rest. Hang up her names, all of the orders. Be someone else.
“You know who they are?” Luke’s smile teased the corners of his mouth, but his tone was all business.
Yes, I do.
“Not a clue,” she said.
“My guy will find out. I’d like to know if we’re about to get screwed over or not. Any idea where we’re going?”
He spoke as though they were in this together. As if he were looking out for her. A stranger.
She blinked, parsing out his words.
Luke meant to protect her.
It was…unexpected. She’d lived her life in dangerous situations, sometimes if she were lucky there would be an agent at her back to provide protection, but that was their job. She was not Luke’s job. Or even his friend. And yet he was including her in his contingency plans.
He was a hero.
It irked her, deep down. Granted, she wanted to appear non-threatening. That was the point of it all. No one would see her coming. She didn’t need saving, but maybe…maybe she could use that to her advantage. Being underestimated worked in her favor more than being appreciated.
“You could be making a mistake telling me all of this.” She crossed one leg over the other.
“Maybe.” He held her gaze. She felt it as though it were a caress against her bare skin. She had to fight not to shiver from the intensity of it.
She was going to sleep with this man.
It might as well be a foregone conclusion. But she could not allow that act to get in the way of her objective. Which meant fostering this sense of familiarity.
She could use him.
“Amman, Jordan,” she said after a few seconds pause. It was a calculated share. He’d know the same thing soon enough. It wasn’t like he could get off the flight. Besides, he surprised her when so little did these days.
“Seriously?” Luke’s brows rose. “Shit. We ain’t got visas or anything.”
“It’s been handled.”
He tipped his chin down, his expression…suspicious.
“These two are bad news.” He shook his head.
Abigail agreed. Mr. and Mrs. Smith were some of the worst kinds of human scum, and as soon as Abigail got an opportunity—they’d be eradicated.
“Where’s your friend?” She needed to distract Luke from the identity of their temporary employer.
He was…a good man. The kind of man she’d have been attracted to before…everything. If at all possible, she needed to keep him out of the way, unconnected to her actions. He didn’t know it yet, but it was she who was protecting him.
“In the bunk.” Luke nodded toward the mid-section where two sets of three bunks made up the crew quarters. “How’d you figure out the destination?”
I knew before I ever took this job.
“Captain left the manifest sitting in his chair when he went to the lavatory.”
“Sneaky girl. I knew I liked you.”
Abigail smiled, despite her better sense screaming at her to tamp down on all expressions. If only he knew her whole story…would he like her then? Too bad it didn’t matter. In four days or less, they’d never see each other again, and he’d likely use her name as a curse.
“What’s the deal? You seem to know how things work.” He settled back in his seat, completely at ease.
“They had another set of male bodyguards with them when they picked me up in London.”
“Friend of a friend type deal?”
“Did you know this was going to happen?”
Truth, or her story?
She’d lived lies so much, a truth would do her good.
“Yes, I had pre-warning that I was being hired to protect someone that was unknown to me.” Okay, one tiny lie. She had known who the intended client was—because she’d put herself in this position. She’d wanted them to hire her.
“What are we in for?”
“The bodyguards before me said that every twelve days they switch out their protection. His theory? So no one knows who they are.”
“How long have you been with them?”
“You’ve got four left then.”
“They—what? Fly you home then?”
“The last bodyguards were taken out this morning to a meeting with Mr. Smith and instructed to bring their luggage because they would be going directly to the plane. Mr. Smith came back. The bodyguards did not.”
“Alive or dead?”
“Alive, I presume. My predecessor was left in a department store.”
“And we have no fucking clue who they are?” Luke shook his head.
The Smiths had chosen wrongly with Luke. He was too nosey. If he didn’t drop this campaign to learn more about them he’d get himself in over his head.
“Some advice?” She pitched her voice lower. “Stop asking questions you don’t want to pay the price for.” She stared at him, hoping he got exactly what she meant.
The Smiths were terrible people. It was why they had to be taken out. Hundreds, if not thousands, of lives would be saved. One of which was Abigail’s mother. It was a mission she couldn’t fail. Not even if it meant putting good men in danger.